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What does it mean to be ‘born again’?
Ask that question to anyone who claims to be a Christian, and you’ll get some interesting answers. But more than anything you’ll get blank looks and averted eyes.
By very definition, a Christian MUST be born again. A Christian who is not born again is, by definition, not Christian.
To resolve this dilemma of their flock generally not being born again (which, were it not resolved, would mean forfeiting a tidy sum of money), mainstream “Christian” organizations have devised their own answers and mechanisms around what it means to be born again. In other words, they’ve redefined it.
Roman Catholicism claims that you’re born again at baptism, an event which usually occurs when you’re three weeks old. Evangelicalism claims that you can become born again at a mass altar-call, when you’re ‘slain by the holy spirit’ after voluntarily coming forward to receive said spirit. Other denominations claim that you just have to ‘pray’ the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and then, like magic, you’re born again (even if you don’t really feel born again).
Given the lack of authenticity of these ‘rebirths’, it’s no wonder that mainstream Christianity is in the state it’s in. Mainstream Christianity comes across as fake because it is fake.
To be spiritually reborn means to have God’s spirit come and live with you, not just sometimes (as with the Old Testament prophets) but all the time (as with Jesus). God’s spirit replaces the worldly (demonic) spirits in you. Those spirits are driven out and God’s spirit comes in. No other spirit can share a place in your soul with God’s spirit.
You either have God’s spirit, or you don’t.
You’re either born again, or you’re not.
There’s no middle ground here. There’s no “I think I am” or “We say you are, so you are.”
If you’re born again, you know it. There’s no faking it. There’s no thinking “maybe I am, maybe I’m not”.
Your life changes dramatically for the better.
When you’re born again, you increasingly see as God sees, and you experience ongoing joy that grows and grows and grows and grows the closer your will aligns with God’s. You align your will with God’s by choosing what you know is God’s will (i.e., doing the right thing). You do the aligning, not God. God’s job is to guide you into doing the right thing, not force you into doing it.
You can also choose not to align your will with God’s, but this would not be wise. Do this enough, and you’ll lose grace. Jesus tells us about a room that is swept clean of demons, only later to be filled with more and worse spirits. This can happen to any born-again. Be warned. Being born again is spiritual rebirth, spiritual rebirth is grace, and grace can be lost.
Being born-again is an exorcism and the true starting point of your journey to heaven. But because those who are born again are yet in the world, they are still ‘burning off’ what doesn’t belong in heaven and can’t be taken there. Being born again doesn’t mean you’re automatically perfect like God or that you’ll never again sin; it means you’re striving for perfection and that you’re less likely to sin than someone who is not born again.
As long as you have free will, you can sin. Being born again doesn’t take away your free will. You’ll have free will as long as you’re in a mortal body, so as long as you’re in your mortal body, you’ll have the capacity to sin.
This doesn’t make you a ‘sinner’. It makes you a saint with the capacity to sin. Big difference there. Jesus had the capacity to sin, but nobody in his or her right mind would call Jesus a sinner. When you’re born again, you become like Jesus. Anyone who calls born-agains ‘sinners’ does not know what he/she is talking about and is actually blaspheming the holy ghost (which is not, according to Jesus, a recommended course of action).
Born-agains are saints, not sinners.
When you’re born again, your values reflect God’s values. This doesn’t happen by learning; it happens automatically with no effort on your part. For me (being born again from atheism), my values changed instantaneously, 180 degrees, 100%. No-one preached to me; my values simply changed.
I used to think as the Western world thinks and value what the Western world values (pro-homosexual rights, pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, etc.) because I had the world’s spirits (demons) in me. Suddenly, after God exorcised me and his spirit entered me, I rejected everything I used to hold as self-evident or “enlightened” or “modern”. These changes came as part of the package deal of being born again. They took no effort on my part and have remained ‘who I am’ since the day I was reborn.
When you’re born-again, your sins are wiped clean away. Your soul is a ‘clean slate’. Jesus died so that you can be born-again, so that God’s spirit can take its rightful place in your soul. You have been reunited with God. The kingdom has come. God’s spirit is with you night and day, helping you do the right thing (i.e., make the right choices) so that you can make it to heaven. Being born again doesn’t mean you’re automatically getting into heaven. Being born again is a prerequisite for getting to heaven, not a ticket there.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
There are lots of liars who call themselves Christians. Some of them lie on purpose (wolves in sheep’s clothing) and some of them lie because they’re genuinely clueless about the kingdom (blind leading the blind). Paul says to test the spirits; don’t believe everything you’re told; test what they say against scripture and against what God’s spirit teaches you, one on one.
Don’t be fooled.
You are to follow only Jesus, not people. You are to be dependent only on God, not people. You are to look only to God for help and healing and comfort, not people.
Be like Jesus. That’s what it means to be born again.
Prayer is the most powerful force in the universe. Through prayer, we open a direct line of communication with God who not only created the universe but is also able to completely destroy it, if he so chooses. This is the level of power we’re talking about. Paul says to “pray without ceasing”, which is what we do when we’re consciously in the presence of God. No words are needed. God is in the house, and we’ve got his full attention.
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he first warned them against reciting “vain repetitions” like the “heathen” do, but instead gave them examples of how to open a conversation with God. He said: Ask him to get you something good to eat today. He said: Tell him you’re looking forward to his kingdom coming to Earth. He said: Tell him that you want your will to align with his, so that your will and his will are one. He said: Call him “Dad”. Then, somewhere along the line, maybe in translation or maybe on purpose, these very different ideas for conversation-openers with God got all merged together into one long vain repetition and became the very thing that Jesus warned us about.
The “Our Father” (or “The Lord’s Prayer”) was never meant to be a “prayer”. At the very most, it could serve as the words for a song, but it shouldn’t be used for praying. Prayer is simply having a conversation with God: your spirit with his spirit. If you’re born-again, God’s your Dad. Imagine what your earthly Dad would think if you called out to him, he came running, and then you stood in front of him looking skywards or with your eyes closed, your hands folded in front of you or extended, palms upward, and you babbled on and on and on about something that didn’t have anything to do with your current problems or interests and wasn’t even reflective of what was going on in your mind at the time? And even when your father tried to interject to find out what it was that you wanted, you just kept babbling on and on as if you didn’t hear him? Imagine if you did that every single time you called to your father and he came running. What do you think he’d think about you? What would you think if your child did the same to you? At some point, I think you’d either stop listening to your child or you’d call for psychiatric intervention. Children of sane minds do not talk to their father like that.
And yet, this is exactly what God, our heavenly Father, hears from most of us when we ‘pray’. It’s sad, really, because God is our Dad. Jesus told us that. Our Dad created prayer as a means for us to talk to him and hear from him. We can talk to him just like we can talk to our earthly Dad. He loves it so much when we talk to him! There’s never a time when he’s not available or when it’s not convenient for him. He never says: Go away, I’m busy. He never says: Call me later. He never says: Hold the line; I’ve got another prayer coming in. He’s always ready and waiting and he’s always all ours. The line is always open. It’s not even necessary to say anything to him. You can just share that wonderful comfortable silence of being together alone with someone you love.
For the three and a half years that I was a Catholic, I took Paul’s words to “pray without ceasing” to mean that I should recite the “Hail Mary” all day long. And so I did. I “prayed” the rosary three times a day, morning, noon and night, which amounted to something like 150+ repetitions, book-ended by a dozen or so “Our Father’s” and two rounds of mass. I also, every day, prayed about an hour’s worth of vain repetitions to angels and to assorted Saints This-and-That, which was in complete violation of God’s commandment and edicts. I wouldn’t have done any of it had I known what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t know. As a Catholic, I was not encouraged to read the Bible to get informed. Had I read the Bible, I would have known about vain repetitions and about not praying to angels and dead people. But Catholics are warned not to study the Bible on their own because (or so they’re told) they lack the ability to understand it without the help of a priest or other official minister of God.
As a Catholic, I was told God was my Heavenly Father, but I wasn’t told that I could get to know him one on one, like Jesus knew him. For Catholics, God is always addressed as thee and thou and thine; God is always out there somewhere – up in the sky or in a box at the side of the altar. He’s never right here, right now, with us, and he’s certainly never right here, right now, inside us. Not for Catholics. Only the pope and priests and some special dead people have a ‘direct connection’ with God. The rest of us rabble have to settle for repeating vain repetitions in the hopes that if we accumulate enough frequent prayer points, we might win a trip to Heaven with a stopover in purgatory.
Sadly, the idea of prayer is even used as a form of punishment in the Catholic organization. After we confess our sins to a priest (not having a direct line of communication with God, we have no other option but to tell our sins to a priest), we’re invariably told that our sins are forgiven as long as we go and “say” ten Hail Mary’s and a few Our Father’s. That’s all it takes. Mumble a few words, and you’re good to go. You don’t even have to mean them.
This is what prayer has become in the largest so-called Christian organization in the world: The most powerful force in the universe has been reduced to a hurried recitation of some old-fashioned words that don’t even really make any sense anymore. How Satan is laughing at us, if he still can! He knows (though most of us appear not to) how powerful prayer is, and how ready and willing God is to intervene at even the slightest change in our thought direction. Remember what Jesus said when he was arrested? He said all he had to do was ask God and he would immediately send 12 legions of angels to rescue him.
That’s a lot of angel power, 12 legions. He probably could have made do with just one angel, if all he wanted to do was get rescued. Twelve legions (approximately 58,000 angels) would have destroyed all of Israel and then some.
This is the kind of power I’m talking about when I say that prayer is the most potent force in the universe. God is not only willing but more than able to move Heaven and Earth for us; all we need to do is ask.
But sometimes we don’t even need to do that. The most powerful prayer I ever prayed was exactly two words long, and one of those words didn’t even make it past my lips. And here’s the kicker – I didn’t know I was praying. I was an atheist. Atheists don’t pray. The words came from a place so deep down inside me that I can only identify it, in hindsight, as my spirit. They were the last gasps of a soul so weighed down by sin that it could no longer properly form words. But God heard. However unintelligible those words were, God heard. He’d been waiting a long time to hear from me. Even before the second word had finished forming in me, he’d swooped down and caught me up in his arms. Had he not, I know now I would have fallen. Forever.
This is prayer. It’s not repetitious mumbling and fumbling with bead counters – no. Prayer is your spirit connecting with God’s spirit, even if you don’t know you’re doing it. Jesus says that God knows what we need even before we ask him. But he still needs to hear us ask; he still needs our permission.
Through prayer, we control the most powerful force in the universe. And not only is this force powerful, it’s completely devoted to us.
So the next time someone tells you to bow your head and pray, tell them you don’t pray in public; you pray in private, like Jesus told you to. Tell them you don’t repeat vain repetitions because God doesn’t hear them. And tell them what they’re doing isn’t praying and that it’s a waste of time.
And then go somewhere alone and pray that they, too, come to know God as their Dad.
For practicing Catholics, Lent is the time of year when, for 40 days and 40 nights prior to Easter Sunday, you “give up” or stop doing something you enjoy doing, such as watching TV or eating sweets. In many instances, the activity you give up for Lent is a ‘bad habit’ that you want to quit anyway, like smoking cigarettes or overeating.
Why, then, do you only temporarily ‘give up’ something that you shouldn’t be doing in the first place? What is the benefit of giving it up for only five and a half weeks?
When questioned about Lent, Catholics explain that they ‘give up’ things for a certain time every year because it is traditional to do so. They also cite the importance of self-restraint and self-sacrifice in developing good character. For Catholics, Lent is essentially just a symbolic gesture of self-restraint and sacrifice as well as a sign of obedience to the pope.
But what does God think of Lent?
Not surprisingly, he’s not a fan. In Hosea, he states “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus reiterates this position in Matthew, and Isaiah (58) explains in stark detail precisely what God means by fasting, including the consequences of ‘false’ and genuine fasting.
Jesus also advised us NOT to look like we’re fasting when we fast, stating that our fasting should be between us and God, and should not be announced or even visible to the world. This is similar to his advice to pray in private and to give alms (charity) anonymously by not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
Lent is basically just a public display of piety. On Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the 40-day “Lenten season”, observant Catholics receive a cross-mark of ashes on their foreheads from the priest. This is supposed to represent, again symbolically, their repentance of, say, eating too many Snickers bars. The ashen cross also serves as a public declaration that for at least the next 40 days and nights, they’ll do their level best to abstain from eating Snickers bars (or smoking cigarettes or whatever). That the highly visible black smudge on the forehead goes against Jesus’ clear advice not to show the world that you’re fasting, should not be a surprise to anyone.
I have a real problem with Lent, just like I have a real problem with most things Catholic. My understanding is that Lent was initially supposed to represent the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent fasting in the desert prior to starting his Earthly ministry. During this time, he was tempted by the devil and overcame each temptation by a rebuttal based on the true interpretation of scripture.
The Catholic organization should take a page from Jesus’ book. He wasn’t out there in the desert to kick a bad habit or give something up for the sake of giving it up – he was being tested to show that even under circumstances of extreme physical and psychological duress, he was able to do God’s will, combat the devil’s insidious attacks, and withstand temptations with God’s help. He was using fasting as a form of training and preparation for the spiritual and physical rigors of his ministry work, which he could successfully accomplish only with God’s help.
Yes, I bolded those three little words so you can see what’s important here. Yet again, Jesus was showing us that we can do the seeming impossible (i.e., withstand and outsmart the very Devil, even though we’re nearing the end of our physical and mental reserves) with God’s help.
Jesus’ time in the desert wasn’t about self-sacrifice or any other kind of sacrifice. It was about leaning on God for all our needs, both physical and spiritual. In contrast, Lent focuses on self-sacrifice and leaning on one’s personal resolve to ‘give up’ something. This, I suppose, is meant to impress God in some way or win you spiritual brownie points, but I’m not buying it and scripture doesn’t support it. And it has nothing to do with Jesus’ time in the desert.
Fasts occur throughout the Old Testament. Typically, a fast is called in order to defer God’s wrath, such as when all the residents of Nineveh (including the cattle) successfully fasted to prevent the destruction of their city that was scheduled to occur within 40 days (see Jonah). Judaism also features specific fasting days, but they are at most a 24-hour period. A fast where you just randomly ‘give up’ something for 40 days and 40 nights has no basis in scripture at all, and is yet another example of what Jesus called “doctrines of man” masquerading as religion (which itself is a cheap knock-off of faith). Catholicism is mostly doctrines of man propped up on a base of demon worship, and Lent is its big red flag.
So what about fasting?
In this, as in everything else, we are to follow Jesus’ example and do God’s will. When God wants you to fast, he’ll not only let you know, he’ll give you the strength to do it. And it will be for a genuine purpose (like Jesus in the desert), not for some contrived hogwash like Lent.